These are challenging times for housing associations. The introduction of legislation like the Welfare Reform and Work Bill and Universal Credit has put pressure on their finances and those of tenants. That has placed a premium on effective communication between the two groups, focused on discussing problems and finding ways of resolving them.
That’s especially true in the case of Universal Credit where the onus is on associations to start chasing payments. Rent arrears are likely to rise, driving an increase in contact centre staff and the volume of associated resources providers need to implement to deal with the issues.
Equally, the pressure tenants are under is leading to an increase in call volumes into contact centres and face-to-face meetings to discuss problems. It’s a situation that is unsustainable for most associations. They need to find a more efficient approach that maintains channels of communications but also keeps tenants happy.
One way they can do this is by broadening the range of communications they offer. Enghouse Interactive customer, Broadacres Housing understands that giving customers choice, convenience and control in the way they contact you is vital.
Rebecca Welburn, Communications Manager, Broadacres, says: “We were aware that customers were choosing various channels to contact us and this trend has been accelerating over time. New digital communications methods like email and social media are becoming more popular and increasingly rivalling the more traditional use of fixed line telephony.”
In line with this openness to tenants, associations should be encouraging their customers to self-serve through everything from intelligent voice-based IVR to online forums. Indeed, at Enghouse, we are currently focused on offering two-way outbound notifications for housing associations creating simple actionable SMS and email messages which can be used to alert tenants to engineer visits or the need to pay rent arrears, while enabling them to quickly reply or action the alert. It is a great way for associations to keep tenants happy while driving down operational costs and delivering faster ROI.
But a word of caution here. The Government has been pushing the Digital by Default message for years and Universal Credit is reportedly the first Digital by Default service. However, recent figures indicate that some 4.1 million UK adults who reside in social housing have never been online.
Given these challenges, it’s clear housing associations need to offer tenants a choice of interaction methods. They need to encourage digitally-savvy customers to communicate online and through self-service but also put resource behind traditional voice-based communications for tenants who are more familiar with this approach.
To ensure they can deliver all this, social housing providers need to have the right infrastructure in place. That means they need to provide contact centre agents with a consistent user interface capable of handling all aspects of omnichannel communication while ensuring they have visibility into all their interactions.
Having the tools on a single desktop means agents can manage all customer interactions as if they were the same. However, this kind of approach also needs to connect to the back office to ensure customer queries are resolved efficiently. Associations need to provide one simple contact centre number and back that up with streamlined routing to subject matter experts, equipped with the knowledge to deal with queries whatever contact means has been used. The presence capabilities of Skype for Business can be critical here, in enabling these cross-organisation connections to bring in expert resource on demand.
Delivering seamless cross-organisation connectivity is also important when it comes to bringing in CRM systems to improve productivity and reduce call times. The setup of the customer-facing technology infrastructure at emh Group is a case in point. Here, EICC features complete computer telephony integration (CTI) to the CRM solution that the group has in place. Agents using EICC can view relevant pop-ups of information about the caller’s previous contact history during the call-handling process.
Focus on Quality to Deliver Results
However efficient and effective the solutions implemented, though, housing associations can’t deliver the customer interaction required without closely monitoring agent performance.
Part of this is about collecting relevant information and turning it into intelligence to help inform future engagement. Delivering quality must, however, also be about measuring agent performance both in terms of ensuring compliance with industry regulation but also for tracking and maintaining the quality of agent interactions.
Historically, most analysis has been done after the fact. The introduction of real-time speech analytics has changed all this and brought some specific benefits for housing associations. The game changer is the ability to deliver instant feedback to agents and improve the quality of the experience for tenants there and then.
Positive Future Ahead
Housing associations are under pressure to cut costs and drive operational efficiencies while keeping customer satisfaction high. It’s a difficult balance to achieve. However, technology can help deliver a best practice approach for associations, enabling them to overcome the challenges; build more positive relations with tenants and face the future with confidence.